Why We Buy (and Employment Branding)

Putting aside the essentials in life (food, medicine, etc.) I am constantly fascinated with why we buy things. For example: I had recently spent the weekend with some friends from out of town, and they immediately started asking me about my Apple watch. “Do you like it?” “What does it do that your phone can’t?” “Did you really need it?” were questions I was fielding and having a tough time answering. Do I like it? Yes – it is pretty neat (especially for a gadgets guy like me). What does it do my phone cannot? Hmmm – struggling to answer that one. Did I really need it? If I am being honest – the answer was no. But if I am also being honest, yes – practically I did not need it, but emotionally I needed it like a thirsty man in the desert needs water. I needed it because it meant something to me. I needed it so bad that I did something I would never do for most (if any) products – shell out the cash and then wait for 2 months (!) for them to deliver the damn thing to me. Even writing that sentence makes me question my sanity. I literally handed my cash to a company and said “no problem – take your time giving me that product. Two months? No worries dudes”. Insane by definition, yet I have zero regrets even though I still can’t answer what it does for me that my phone couldn’t do already.




I think about our mentality around our buying habits a lot. What makes us buy things, even when we don’t need them? I always go back to the TED talk that changed my whole view on marketing that has been cited countless times “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek. While everyone and their mother’s best friend cite this these days, for me it is still relevant. The example I keep thinking of, and have cited constantly, is Apple vs Samsung. Samsung, according to many, makes the superior product, but why doesn’t Samsung inspire the passion, bordering on insanity (see me buying Apple Watch, waiting two months for it and not even knowing what it does) that Apple does? Why doesn’t Samsung have people sleeping on streets for days to buy their products but Apple does? Look at how they market themselves. Samsung constantly is sharing what their products can do (feature selling) as opposed to Apple who very rarely ever even say what the heck their products do, just why they make them and what they believe in that inspires them to make them. This very base, guttural connection that happens with like minded people becomes the source for this passion and insane buying response. They intentionally create an “in-crowd” exclusive type mentality with their product releases – huge showcases followed by very little supply. This creates the fever with which people decide to camp out on a city street to buy something so they can be FIRST and different from the masses. We want what we can’t have.




I think about beer. Yes, sweet, nourishing, delicious beer. For the beer lovers among us (and I am one – mmmmmm beer) Heady Topper out of Waterbury, Vermont is the holy grail of beer. People travel from all across the country to the 30 mile radius around The Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury to get it. People sell 4 packs of Heady Topper on EBay for $75. Yes – you just read that correctly – a 4 pack of beer going for $75. I love Heady Topper and think it is delicious, but no beer is worth that kind of ridiculousness. I know that – but emotionally I still couldn’t resist making that journey myself last year. Yes – I admit very publicly I drove 4 hours north and went store to store at a 4 pack a pop hording as much of it as I could. Why? Much like Apple, The Alchemist limits supply thus generating crazy demand. Yes – the product is excellent, but their marketing is brilliant. They limit every customer to a 4 pack per person, and only supply the bare bones minimum to the stores and restaurants they select worthy of selling it. Yep – they limit the distribution of the beer to a 30 mile radius of the brewery and never sell it beyond there. Because it is so rare, you have lunatics like me and other beer aficionados perhaps blowing its greatness out of proportion in a guerrilla marketing type campaign – telling anyone and everyone how special it is and the crazy journey we took or price we paid to get it. This completes the marketing circle – the people we tell then want to be part of the “club” and go on their own crazy journeys to get it too.   Look throughout any products in history that created this kind of crazy consumer purchasing behaviors. Remember the Cabbage Patch Kids? Low supply, high demand and “exclusivity” marketing led to moms and dads fighting each other (literally) in toy stores to get them for their kids. Air Jordans? What a successful run this sneaker line has had for Nike. To this day, even though Michael Jordan has not played in over a decade, people line up for hours to be the first to have them. I could go on and on. We want what we can’t have.



As I mentioned earlier, the recruiting world is one of the toughest sales jobs in all of business – if not the toughest due to the highly personal and emotional stakes involved. We all know these days that a meaningful, engaging and vibrant employment brand is critical to this sale. Much like how sales and marketing teams function, you want a high demand and large funnel of leads (read: candidates) at the top of the funnel to allow you to proper qualify in the middle of the funnel (read: interview and assess) to lead to successful sales (read: hires) at the end of the funnel. Yet, most Talent Acquisition departments still operate in the exact opposite fashion. They get a requirement with all of its “must haves” , start the funnel with an extremely small opening searching for their “purple squirrels” and then wonder why so there are so few hires at the end of the funnel. Let’s learn something from the products that drive consumers crazy. If you are genuine, honest, and most importantly unique in your employment branding efforts, you will get the people who are like minded passionate about your brand and they will want to come to you. If done well, like Samsung in the Apple example, some people will not like it and tap out at the beginning. Guess what though – if you are being truly honest about what it is like to work at your company, those people would have hated it anyway. The people who are attracted though, they become excited and more than just “tire kickers” on your brand. This honesty and uniqueness in branding creates that air of exclusivity that I cited in all the brands I mentioned prior and makes those who think like minded more likely to want to pursue your openings or answer your recruiters outreach calls and emails.




Curiously, most companies are afraid to stand out and take risks with their employment branding efforts. More and more I see companies making the standard videos of employees, visible from shoulders up in a bland setting, talking about why they work at the company with the cheesy corporate music in the background. News flash – everyone else is doing this too and no one cares. If you are doing what everyone else is doing than you ARE like everyone else. I see lots of meaningless quotes, stock images and corporate speak language about “mission statements” talking in a B2B voice as opposed to what this conversation really should be – P2P. Yes – person to person. People want to know what it is like to work at your company, not more marketing BS about your products and services or mission statements. Again – this is such a highly personal and emotional sell that to treat it as a transactional type sell is to set yourself up for failure. The market is so tight right now. Candidates have more than just options, they have more information than they have ever had in the history of job searching. You can use this to your advantage or you can play the vanilla and safe way. The choice is yours. Now excuse me while I look at the Heady Topper delivery schedules in Waterbury for my next 4 hour trip north.



(BTW – that photo is me up near Waterbury after obtaining said Heady Topper and getting ready to drink that bad boy)




Posted on July 14, 2015 in candidate experience, Employment Brand, Entertainement, job posting, Recruiting, selection, talent acquisition

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  1. […] radius of the Alchemist brewery in Waterbury, Vermont. This beer is awesome. Yes – there is some marketing genius behind this beer but great marketing or no, the actual product is still fantastic. They too, like all the beers on […]

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